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Meeker Co. begins offering voluntary leave without pay to its employees

LITCHFIELD -- Meeker County is offering a voluntary leave-without-pay program to county employees in hopes of saving some money in the county budget.

County Administrator Paul Virnig said Wednesday that the Meeker County Board of Commissioners approved a program that allows county employees to minimize their work week by 12 hours and still retain their health insurance benefits.

Virnig said the program, which was used by the county in 2003 and 2004, is designed to save the county some money in wages. He said the county saved somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 when the program was previously implemented. Virnig said the county had three or four employees who took the offer in 2003.

"If you can get 3,000 hours at $20 an hour, that's $60,000," Virnig said. "It's better than laying people off."

According to the policy, a county employee can request up to 12 hours a week, or 624 hours per year, of unpaid time off and maintain the full-time health insurance benefits guaranteed to them. Virnig said the program actually allows more time off than the county's 2003 implemented version.

The employees will also receive life insurance and holiday benefits identical to if they were working full-time. The program offering will start March 1 and expire Dec. 31, 2010.

Virnig said the county will open the program to all of its departments. Employees will need to request the unpaid time off from their respective department head. Virnig and the department head will then decide whether to approve the request.

Once an employee is granted the unpaid time off, the employee can return to full-time work only upon the approval of Virnig and the employee's department head. According to the policy, a department head may also call back the employee to full-time status if necessary.

Some departments, such as the sheriff's office, will be "a little trickier ... because you've got to fill those shifts," Virnig said.

"We'll work with people as much as we can," Virnig said. "Some areas will be tougher ... but we'll definitely have an open mind toward this because we're looking at trying to save some money."

Virnig said the county already sent out a memorandum about the program to the department heads for distribution to employees.